Sep 202013

You’ve probably taken photos with your smartphone or at the very least have seen others take photos with their phones. Photos are a great way to document a moment in time and save it to view again later.

But how do we make sure we get the best pictures? The ones that tell a story. That look good, even to people who didn’t attend. One way is to move around and get different angles. Move so something different is in the foreground, something else completes the story in the background.

I was reminded of this when I played on the United Way of East Central Iowa volleyball team that participated in the annual Alliant Energy volleyball tournament. The event’s proceeds benefit the community through United Way.

I walked around and took a few photos. Below are two photos of virtually the same scene. The first one shows the United Way sign straight on. You can also see the fence and some of the courts behind it. The second one required me to take a few steps to the right and bend my knees. I would say the second one is a much better shot. The banner is the dominating piece in the photo, but you can also see the Volley’s sign and building. You can also see a couple of people.

A good reminder that just a few steps to the right, left, forward or back can help you get a better photo.

United Way sign at Volley's in Cedar Rapids

United Way sign at Volley's in Cedar Rapids

Sep 032013

The 2013 United Way of East Central Iowa printed campaign materials included a new feature: Augmented reality. Through the use of a smartphone app you can view videos of the stories shown inside the print piece and listen to audio clips of donors shown.

In August, we also participated in a Twitter chat on the topic.

Augmented reality brings print media into the digital world in ways that enchant and encourage an audience to engage more deeply with content.

For content marketers on this week’s #contentchat, it evoked fascinating possibilities and plenty of questions. Luckily, our guest Christoph Trappe of United Way of Central Iowa was on hand to discuss how the organization has used the technology for its own content marketing.
The rest of the chat can be found here.

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Aug 052013

This post was written for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance to help small businesses in the Cedar Rapids Metro Area.

We hear a lot about storytelling nowadays. Some organizations do it. Many are talking about wanting to do it. But how do you tell stories? And how do you share them? And how do you decide where to share them?

This post discusses how organizations of any size (smaller ones, too!) can get this process started.

The basics

First of, stories are not your traditional marketing message or campaign, though, they could be used in that medium.

Why share stories? Research has shown that people react differently to stories. When we share stories that are meaningful to the audience, they see the story unfold in their minds. Their bodies have a physical reaction, too. They can feel the details. In comparison, when somebody reads a PowerPoint to his audience, people don’t have that same feeling. That’s not a story.

Requirements to tell stories

It’s important to commit to wanting to share stories. In larger organizations, that means that the C-level team (CEO, CMO, etc.) need to buy in and endorse this. Even if you can’t get the entire team to publicly endorse this, it’s important to get key leaders on board!

An easy way to get this ball rolling: Sell the idea to somebody on the C-level. See if they’ll let you appoint them as the executive lead/ambassador/whatever.

Now, if you own a small business owner and you are the C-level at your organization, you’ll just have to convince yourself.

Once you decided that you want to share authentic stories around your business it’s important that you explain to staff what that means to you, that you support them bringing ideas and capturing stories as they run across them.

Even if you work long hours, chances are your employees – if you have employees – will run across some of the stories worth sharing. You want to make sure to remind them that this is important and valued.

What’s a story?

An authentic story is a story that is true and actually happened.

That’s pretty much it! Perhaps it’s a bit more complicated when you think about what stories to actually share.

To share a story they should have some level of being interesting. Better yet, they evoke some emotional response. A review of New York Times articles found that the ones that were shared most evoked positive emotions. Those were followed closely by ones that evoked negative emotions. (Source: Susan M. Weinschenk’s “How to Get People to Do Stuff.”)

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Jul 302013

Participated in a Twitter chat that highlighted some of United Way of East Central Iowa’s content ideas. Click here for the overview.

From the article to explain why topical homepages can work:

Like an impressive home entryway, a beautifully designed website homepage can attract visitors to explore further. But guests are often not quite as enchanted when they return.

They’ve seen it.

So what if you could create new excitement on your homepage while drawing attention to the latest events going on within your organization or company?

Jul 072013

As more and more brands tweet, Facebook, blog and publish their stories and content on various other old and new channels, it’s also important that you think about your brand’s voice.

Your brand voice is how you sound when you write tweets, respond to Facebook questions, respond to emails and how your blog posts are written, for example.

What should your brand voice be?

Your voice should reflect your style and way of doing business. If you have a fun, quirky coffee shop that caters to new technology lovers your brand’s voice should fit that audience.

Perhaps your brand’s voice could be defined as:

Fun, quirky, on the cutting edge, but not offending.

If you are a serious attorney’s office your brand voice should reflect that. It might be defined like this:

Serious. Informational. Trustworthy, but not chatty.

In my definitions I like to use two to three words that describe the brand (Do This) and one “but not ..” example (Do Not Do This).

It helps people communicating publicly for a brand (especially when there is more than one person) to have a bit of guidance that can be easily referred back to.

An example for United Way in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where more than a dozen people communicate publicly through branded channels:

Serious, but fun. Not silly.

Same set-up here. United Way’s work is serious, but there’s still room to have fun and share information in a fun (conversational) way.

For my own personal brand, I share most of what I have to say on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and my blog at, where you can also find links to the first three networks.

I never actually sat down and wrote a formal plan on what my voice would be. It has definitely evolved from just chit-chatting to more focused. I would describe my own voice now as:

Sharing, personal, chatty and responsive but not overbearing.

Defining your voice

These questions might help you define your voice:

1) How would you describe your typical customer?
2) How would you describe a customer group that you would like to engage but haven’t been able to?
3) How would you describe the atmosphere in your business environment? This could be in your store, over the phone, etc.
4) How would you describe how you want your business to be described by the public?

Click here to download and print a worksheet with these questions.

The answers could give you a clue to what your brand voice might be. Let’s take a look at potential answers and how they might help you. (This example is totally made up and does not reflect an actual business that I know of.)

1) Older. Established business people. Connected. BlackBerry users who recently switched to iPhones.
2) Younger business people, who are up and coming. We think they know of us but aren’t extremely loyal, yet.
3) Friendly. Business-like. Helpful. Cordial.
4) Helpful. Easy to work with.

Potential brand voice:
Easy-going, helpful and conversational, but not too casual.

That exact voice might not work for your exact brand, but you probably get the idea on how to take a stab at defining your brand’s voice.

The more unique your brand voice is the easier it should be for customers, advocates, etc., to feel connected to you. Isn’t that much better than everyone sounding the same?

Don’t forget

No matter what your voice might end up being, remember to be clear about what can be shared publicly, what can’t be shared publicly, and which content could go either way depending on the situation.

You may choose to download my Social Media Strategy template here that can help you and your organization define the do’s and don’ts as well as other parts of your content engagement.

Related links:
Coca-Cola’s Content Journey

MailChimp’s Voice and Tone Guide

Jun 222013

This German candid camera show hit on all cylinders when it came to executing on a content distribution strategy on June 22, 2013. Let’s take a look.

The show was scheduled to air on German TV at 8:15 p.m. local time. Before that, it was promoted on the show’s YouTube channel through a casual clip by the show’s moderator.

The show’s Twitter stream was humming along before the show and was interacting with fans during the show.


The show’s website also prominently displayed that the show was now on and could be viewed live online here. And, the live stream worked on iPads.


And finally, while all this was going on, the show uploaded the candid camera clips to its YouTube channel live as they were being shown on TV. Of course, the people that subscribed to that channel – like me, for example – received an email that the new clips were now up.

Great job, hitting many different channels to share content and get to as many audiences as possible! (I’m even wondering which channels that were used that I’m not aware of!)

Jun 032013

Note: This first appeared on the United Way of East Central Iowa Marketing Blog.


The CMS Association recognized our site and this concept and execution with the Best CMS Site of the Year (WordPress) Award for 2012-2013. For the announcement go here.

At United Way in Cedar Rapids, we try to build community awareness around specific topics. While our main areas (income, health, education and volunteering) remain the same, there are many sub-topics that we want to highlight throughout the year.

To accomplish this we create topical homepages for different time periods. For example, when we have a community event on Adverse Childhood Experiences we highlight this topic on the homepage. At the beginning of the legislative session we created a video that highlighted how we can help our families that do not earn enough to meet basic needs.

When we were looking to recruit volunteers for 150-some projects, we decided to launch a Virtual Volunteer Fair.

Using WordPress on the backend, this is relatively easy to set up.

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Apr 142013

This article over at Fox 13 News out of Salt Lake City was a good reminder how social medial (even if not used by a person) and somebody’s appearance in an offline place can connect.

From the article:
Simonelli says he learned about Instagram the hard way; one of his sources informed him that a local gang member had snapped a picture of Simonelli while he was out to dinner with his family. That photo was put on Instagram with a derogatory remark about police.

“I had no idea about it until it was provided to me,” he said. ”As I explain to cops, teachers, everybody, you always have to be watching your surroundings. You never know, I didn’t see that individual take a picture of me. Doesn’t take long for anybody to take a quick picture on a phone nowadays.”

This is something I continue to talk about in social media presentations.

Do I have a right to privacy when I walk my dog? Probably not. Can somebody take my picture and post it wherever? Probably.

It will feel awkward, perhaps, but can they do it? Sure. Is it legal in all instances to take somebody’s picture and post it? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean people won’t try.

People thinking about doing this, though, might consider this: How will the other person feel if I post this photo? Will it help us build a better connection? Will they be happy or embarrassed?

Taking a photo of a person speaking to a group about public communication (which I do from time to time) they probably won’t mind if you post it. They might even appreciate it. I know I do.

But what if you take a not-so-flattering picture of them? WIll they feel the same positive way? Maybe not. I know I’ve taken pictures of people speaking at events and they didn’t turn out very flattering. So, I didn’t post them.

Perhaps the question to ask: How would I feel if I was the person in the picture?

When in doubt: Ask. “Would it be OK to post this picture?”

Some people – including the gang members mentioned in the Fox article – wouldn’t do that, but it could help build connections and share something publicly at the same time.

Mar 312013

Some thoughts on writing and sending news releases to the media.

1) Write for everyone, not just the reporter. This allows the reporter to copy and paste, if they chose to.

2) Value… why should people care? Tell them!

3) Don’t quote yourself. The whole release is technically a quote from the person sending it.

4) Don’t pad yourself on the back too much. Compliments are much stronger when they come from others.

5) Get to the point. We are all busy – journalists, too. Value their time.

Additional thought: Post the information on your website for anyone interested and not on the distribution list.

Mar 122013

Note: These are two classes I taught at the Mid-Winter Institute in 2013 in Madison, Wis. This was first published on the United Way of East Central Iowa Marketing site and is published here under United Way’s Creative Commons license.

Slides from the 2013 United Way Mid-Winter Institute communication training sessions can be found below.

Communication Across Channels: Why, How & When

Attendees on average rated this session a 4.3 on a 5-point scale. All attendees said the presenter was knowledgeable about the topic and that they could use the information provided.

Some of the comments on key takeaways:
Helpful tools to better connect.

Lots of great stats on people’s behavior and ideas what to write about.

Concept of creating content one time and editing and replicating for all channels.

It’s OK to distribute same information across many channels. What I needed to hear.

Simplifying is smart, not lazy.

Specific ideas on sharing information in new ways.

Helpful to hear that as long as we’re doing things well it won’t matter what the next venue is.

Ideas to expand our social media and communications presence in our community.

Nice way to think about all channels. I appreciated ways to think about measurements.

Gone are the days when printed materials were the only content delivery channel. Today, there are many. Social media, websites, events, news releases, TV, billboards and who knows what’s going to be invented next. We can’t ignore new channels that might help us distribute our content and engage with new (or old) audiences in new ways. But who has the time to focus on each channel as a standalone piece? This session gives a step by step guide on how to implement a strategy that takes all relevant channels into account and offers tips on how to format content for them based on user expectation. In the long run this should allow you to efficiently manage all your channels and grow into the future. The session also covers how to measure success – short and long term.

Related links:
2013 Non-Profit Marketing Trends
The Zero Moment of Truth
United Way of East Central Iowa Marketing Blog

How to tell an engaging story

Attendees on average rated this session a 4.3 on a 5-point scale. All attendees said the presenter was knowledgeable about the topic and most said that they could use the information provided.

Some of the comments on key takeaways:
New ideas from other United Ways.
Better use of channels for distributing stories.
Focus on all channels.
Keep it simple. Then simplify it more.
Story development
All staff are storytellers and spokespeople
Tips on how to spot your business goals
Great session. Can tell you are passionate about communication!
Authenticity in storytelling
The importance of paying greater attention to everything we say to determine if message has intended effect.
Always be aware of stories and keep gathering stories.
Create for website and then use for in other channels.
Many takeaways!
Put so much stuff out there that you don’t get hung up on any one piece/article/Tweet

This session dives into how to develop authentic stories. Consider ways to identify and share stories year round and how to move into the direction of telling authentic (that doesn’t mean negative!) stories that help your United Way engage with the community.

Many factors go into doing this:
What resources are available?
What skills can employees pick up?
How comfortable are leaders and others involved with sharing stories?
How comfortable are we from moving from marketing speak and “talking points” to authentic language?

Key takeaways: How to identify stories, Identifying the best way(s) to tell them, How to execute efficiently, Identifying channels, measuring results, tips on making time to respond and talking with people on all those channels.

Related links:
United Way of East Central Iowa videos
Stories’ impact on the brain
Kirkwood Community College Social Media Strategy Class – 2013
How people use devices: The iPad
People want to be entertained (Humor in advertising)
Content Strategy for Non-Profits
Attention span statistics